Tuesday, May 28

Homeless charity helped target rough sleepers to deport



St Mungo’s is one of the largest providers of homelessness outreach services in the UK, with 17 outreach teams across the south and south-west.

On its website it says it is “here for every step of the journey away from homelessness” and says its outreach teams work to gradually build up trusting relationships with people who are sleeping rough.

But St Mungo’s has admitted to the Guardian that it has cooperated with Home Office immigration, compliance and enforcement (Ice) teams when they go looking for rough sleepers who are in the UK illegally.

A September 2016 Home Office training document obtained by the Guardian, which features the St Mungo’s logo, states: This teamwork which sees both the charity referring eligible people to immigration enforcement [IE] for help with voluntary returns and IE referring people to St Mungo’s has already proved beneficial for both bodies.

Asked about its work with the Home Office, St Mungo’s said some of its contracts with local authorities specified that it should work with Ice teams. I get why that can be seen as strange and unpopular for some people, said Petra Salva, the charity’s director of rough sleeping services. It’s a difficult climate we’re operating in.

Asked to clarify whether its teams still worked with Home Office patrols, a spokesperson for the charity said: We don’t believe our outreach staff have accompanied Ice teams this year.

It continues to work with the Home Office by passing on details of people from other countries who wish to return home.

The disclosure of its past work with the Home Office drew criticism from elsewhere in the charity sector.

The North East London Migrant Action group said: The role of homelessness charities should be to uphold the rights of vulnerable people.

Our advice to the rough sleepers we support will be to think twice about engaging with commissioned outreach services and, where possible, to seek help instead from independent charities.

Crisis, one of the UK’s leading homelessness charities, referred the Guardian to a statement from June last year that did not refer to St Mungo’s but stated: If it is true that people are avoiding help from outreach teams for fear of encountering the Home Office, then these people will become more vulnerable, not less.

The Home Office uses various methods to remove people considered to have no right to be in the UK. These include encouraging migrants to return home voluntarily, sometimes with a package of support, and enforced removal for those who will not leave willingly.

Even when people return voluntarily, some say they do so out of a sense that they have no choice. One asylum seeker who agreed to return to Uganda, a country he had previously fled following government persecution,said: I agreed to return home voluntarily after my case was refused as I didn’t feel I had any other option. But I am in hiding and fear for my life. Nobody monitors our safety after we have returned.

The Home Office’s approach to removing foreign nationals who are sleeping rough has been a matter of controversy for some time. In December, a high court ruling found that its policy on EEA nationals, which deemed that sleeping on the streets was an abuse of EU free movement rights, was unlawful.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that since the high court ruling it had suspended the Ice patrols. The spokeswoman said that instead the Home Office was working with a cross-government team to provide support to rough sleepers.

In a statement that addressed its work with the Home Office in more general terms last year, St Mungo’s said: We do not share information about people to the Home Office except when an individual has given their consent.

A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan said: The mayor has always been very clear that he is completely opposed to the Home Office policy that denied non-UK nationals sleeping rough access to services, and leaves them vulnerable to being returned home with no support waiting for them. There have been no joint patrols with the Home Office for mayoral or borough commissioned services since the publication of the judicial review in December.

The spokesperson said planned work with the Home Office to refer vulnerable people into support had been put on hold until the government clarified its policy.